No. 285 NAI DFA Minister's Office files (1924-25)

Handwritten letter from James McNeill to Desmond FitzGerald (Dublin)

London, 17 November 1924

My dear Minister,

Thanks for your letter regarding the Boundary question etc.1

I write this personally as I think I ought to be a model of discretion. The High Comm[issioner]s. were asked to meet Mr. Baldwin to-day at 10 D[ownin]g. St. We all went, the P.M., Mr. Austin Chamberlain, & Mr. Amery were also present. The P.M. said he had asked us to hear what the F.[oreign] Sec[retar]y. had to say. He did not quite say that this was definitely the beginning of a new system but it was, I think, implied. The H.[igh] C[ommissioner]s are apparently to be told what are the main things impending & what are the considerations regarded as most seriously affecting policy, & it was stated that they would use their own judgment as to what they passed on. Matters which were still the subject of consideration could be disclosed, the object being to obviate the need for asking the Dominion G[o]v[ernmen]ts. to assent to definite proposals about matters of which they had no previous knowledge.

Mr. Chamberlain mentioned the Geneva protocol. He said neither he nor the Cabinet had had time to give this full consideration. He had this morning discussed it with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald formally. The latter considered that it did not add to the Covenant of the League but gave more precise definition to the obligations incurred by members. There was a little discussion on this, the H.[igh] C.[ommissioner] for Australia referring to Japan's interpretation & the Japanese view regarding immigration. However, Mr. Chamberlain stated that he was still examining the question & that he had asked for a postponement of the League Council meeting in December to enable this G[o]v[ernmen]t. to consider the matter. France & Belgium had signed the protocol.

The position in Egypt was that Zaqhlul Pasha2 was not content with the reservations made by Gt. Britain when Egyptian Independence was recognised. The main reservations were the British right to defend the canal, the separation of the Sudan, & the retention of the Judicial Adviser whose presence was regarded as important while foreign nations were told that they would not be allowed to exercise direct pressure on behalf of their own nationals. It was thought that controversy might arise over the re-appointment of the Judicial Adviser, not because of the reservation itself but as a beginning of the anti-reservation campaign. Mr. Larkin3 asked a few questions about this & indicated that he thought anything like serious trouble over this would not appeal to the man in the street. Mr C. said he did not know if trouble would arise or just what action could be taken but he wanted to let it be known that Zaqhlul would put up a fight on any question. It was added that the Egyptians in the Sudan public service were being urged to side with Zaqhlul's claim to the Sudan. The British Gvt. would adhere to its claim to control the Sudan & would oppose all modifications of the status quo unless Zaqhlul discussed as a basis of the [...]4 complete denial of all British claims.

I think that is a fairly accurate account of what passed, the Foreign Sec[retar]y's statement being at times broken by questions[,] remarks or even rather irrelevant conversations.

I do not know if we are to be asked frequently to such meetings. Mr. A.C. said that while he welcomed all means of informing the dominions he had no cut & dried plan to propose[,] he would almost certainly agree to any form of consultation which the H.[igh] C.[ommissioner]s agreed on. I think that was a very wise & a very safe statement.

As regards the matters mentioned no decision had as yet been reached by the British Gvt. & Mr. A.C. stated he was clearing his own mind. We met at4.15 p.m. & the meeting lasted about 3/4 hour.

Just before going in I met in the hall Sir James Craig who introduced me to Mr. Pollock,5 with whom I had a few words about my sister's death. Mr. P. knew my people well.

My taking pains to write privately does not mean that I have become a federalist. I am doing what as an Irishman I think is right.

Yours sincerely,
James McNeill

P.S. (Wednesday morning)

To-day's Times suggests that certain topics were discussed. They were not even mentioned. Doubtless some topics had to be mentioned to satisfy public curiosity.

1 Letter not located.

2 Leader of the Wafd party and Egyptian Prime Minister.

3 Peter Larkin, Canadian High Commissioner in London (1922-1930).

4 Word illegible.

5 Hugh M.Pollock, Northern Ireland Minister of Finance.

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